Today’s reader story is from a gentleman who lives in Austria and wanted to get a C3 Corvette like what his father had in his youth. However, circumstances brought another American to his doorstep. If you too have a classic car with a story to share, please visit this link and fill in the information to submit your story for a chance to be featured on the ClassicCars.com Journal.
Some might say owning a big, thirsty land yacht in Austria, where streets are narrow and fuel prices are high ($7.30/gallon), is a bit insane. And they would be correct! Had I known what I was getting myself into, I possibly may have never bought this Cadillac but, truth be told, I am happy I was so naive.
My dad owned plenty of cool cars when I was young, but the one I loved the most was his 1968 Corvette convertible with a 427 big-block. He owned it when I had just received my driver’s license, and today I continue to be amazed he let me drive it. Alas, that was 17 years ago and, since then, I always had the urge to drive an American classic again. Two years ago, I found myself in the position to buy one myself.
Naturally, my first choice was a chrome-bumper C3 (1968-72). However, the ones I could afford were all in questionable condition: cracked paint on the fiberglass and engines that had been messed with, probably swapped from Chevy Blazers. During my endless sessions of browsing car ads, I happen to stumble upon the razor-like taillight of the first-generation FWD Eldorado. That design, combined with its 7.7-liter V8, completely hooked me. I had to have one even though I had never even sat in a Cadillac.
Not a lot is known about my Eldorado’s history other than it was built in 1968. From 1979-97, it spent its life with one owner in Florida. It then was bought by a Virginia member of the Antique Automobile Club of America, who had it repainted the following year. After 20 years of being in good hands, the Eldorado’s journey crossing the Atlantic began with a Hungarian auto dealer at a Florida auction. After clearing customs through the Netherlands, the Eldorado spent two years sitting at the dealer’s lot in Hungary, not even being registered.
Buying a good, almost original classic is easy when money is no object. I don’t fit that description, so my search took months until, by chance, I found two equally fine 1968 Eldorados for sale: a black one in Finland and a red one in Hungary. The black one was cheaper, but the red one was only a three-hour drive from my place, so my dad and I drove over the border to Budapest. This was somewhat daunting because it was during the pandemic and we could be stopped at the border, even with valid COVID documentation.
Upon arriving at a huge lot in the not-so-pretty outskirts of Budapest, we found a hut with an American flag and two old Cadillacs inside. We both were blown away by the condition of the car, with practically no rust in the more troublesome areas like behind the chrome under the wheel housing and the underside of the doors. The interior only had a minor issue with the driver’s seat. Perhaps I should have spent more time learning about the car than searching for it, as there were some issues we didn’t pay as much attention to as we should have — for example, the heater didn’t work. We figured it was just a stuck heating valve, but it ended up being way more complicated than that.
The ride was somewhat bumpy, which ended up being due to the leaf springs being tired and the air suspension not working. In fact, almost every part of the suspension that was made of rubber needed replacing. But we needed to have this Caddy up and running, plus we’re optimists and, maybe, a bit stupid too. Ever been there?
The dealer was a nice guy but he didn’t speak English. However, as he was raised behind the Iron Curtain, he spoke Russian, so another Russian-speaking dealer in the same lot was kind enough to be our translator. We got everything sorted out, agreed on a price, made sure the import duties were paid, and left a deposit (half of the value) on the Caddy, with the rest to be paid upon delivery.
Since December 2021, I have fixed the suspension and changed the lights in order to conform to European laws, such as amber blinkers and headlights that are not sealed-beam.
However, a major issue that wasn’t present when I bought the car but reared its head last summer. I had tried to get the timing right, so I bought an electronic ignition conversion, stiffer mechanical advance springs, and a new vaccum advance canister. When I removed the carburetor, I also discovered the base gasket was leaking exhaust gases into the intake. However, in the fall, I lost compression in one cylinder.
We pulled the engine and found a broken piston, so we began a complete engine rebuild including honing the cylinder walls, installing a new set of pistons, new camshaft and bearings, rebuilding the carburetor, and a few other items. As you can imagine, the first start-up was nerve-wracking. Unfortunately, we found a knock but, luckily, the issue turned out the be the dipstick, which we had bent in the wrong direction. Overall, for our first engine rebuild, it went surprisingly well. Now the engine is running fine with good power, and I have already put on 1,500 miles since the rebuild.
–Maximilian Elsinger, Austria